Defending your Thesis Remotely

I recently defended my doctoral thesis remotely! This was supposed to be a face-to-face defense (or viva, short for viva voce exam, as they call it in the UK) at the UCL Institute of Education in London, which suddenly had to be turned into a remote viva once travel restrictions prevented me from leaving the country.

I know there are a lot of others out there with defenses/vivas scheduled in the coming weeks and months that may end up having to do them online. Here are some of my tips for defending your thesis remotely.

Think of it as an event, and you’re the producer. With a face-to-face defense, you don’t have a lot of control over the physical aspects of the experience. You show up to a certain room at a certain time, do your defense, and go. But with a remote defense, you can be in control of almost everything–short of the questions that examiners ask you, of course! The room, facilities, technology, etc. are all within your control.

Pretend you’re filming a movie or staging a play and think about all elements of the experience from the point of view of the examiners. Think about every link in the chain, and what is needed for it to function smoothly. And similar to the performing arts, practice makes perfect–make sure you rehearse not just the answers to your viva questions, but rehearse using your whole technical set up. Here’s what I tried to think about before my viva:

  • Staging and composition. I really think that if your image is coming through into the examiners’ computers clearly with minimal distractions, the examiners can better focus on what you’re saying. On the other hand, if the backdrop is chaotic, or you are looking into the camera at a weird angle, or if it’s hard to see or hear you, then it sets a negative tone for the session and will detract from your research. Set up your computer and do a video call to a friend or snap a few photos with your webcam to see the the angle of the camera and also what the backdrop is. Do you have to put your computer up on some books so that you can look straight into the camera rather than down or up your nose? Do you have to shift some furniture in the background or hang a sheet (no really!) to cover up a distracting or unprofessional background? I shifted a few pieces of furniture so a lovely oil painting of the Nova Scotia coast could be the background during my viva.


    And the best part of a viva via webcam is that you can have all sorts of notes, cheat sheets, motivational posters, luck charms, photos of celebrities–whatever you need–around and with you during the viva, just out of frame of the webcam. Even more than what you would take into a F2F defense. So make sure you have a good set up with enough space to spread out what you need.
  • Lighting. Lighting really influences the quality of the image your examiners will be speaking to during the defense. The goal should be a clear image so that the examiners don’t have to strain to see, and therefore focus on you. Don’t have a light source behind you because your face will be dark. Place a light outside the frame of the webcam, perhaps behind your computer, so you’ll be looking into it and it will illuminate your face. The important thing is to test it out beforehand and adjust as needed.
  • Sound. Sound is really important because it’s how you will hear the questions, and how the examiners will hear your responses to them! In most situations you have two options for your microphone: the microphone built into the webcam, or an external microphone, for example, on a headset or cellphone earbuds. (I use something like this.) If you’re in a large, echo-y room, I would recommend using an external mic as it will be closer to your mouth and will make the sound quality better. For the in-coming sound, it’s the same–you can either use your computer speakers, or connect headphones or earbuds to the computer. It’s a good idea to always have headphones/earbuds on hand in case the in-coming sound on your computer is so loud it’s being picked up by the microphone, and will cause the examiners to hear your voice in echo. This is very distracting and unpleasant, so if this starts to happen, you’ll want to plug in your headphones to stop it. Like the camera image, you’ll want to test out the sound aspect of your set up with a friend beforehand.
  • Eye Contact. Remember that you have to look into the webcam to make eye contact with the people on the other end of the video conference, rather than looking at their eyes as they appear in their images on your screen. This is one I always forget, so during my viva I put a bright post-it note with the two examiners’ names right above my webcam, so I’d be reminded to look at it instead of my screen. Others put a pair of googly eyes or some other thing by their webcam lens as a reminder. Just make sure it’s not blocking the camera!

The Tech!

This is the aspect of the remote defense that strikes fear in the heart of most! There are three aspects of the tech related to a remote defense that you have to think about, set up, troubleshoot, and make several back-up plans for: the hardware (your device), the software (the program you’ll be using to make the call) and the internet connection. If you’re less than confident about tech, try to find someone who will help you get a primary set up and a backup ready, and who might be on hand during your defense just in case you need some tech help. That’s another advantage of the remote viva–you can have your whole entourage waiting in the wings to support you and no one will know!

  • For hardware, be it a desktop computer, laptop or phone, make sure it’s all up to date so that it doesn’t randomly shut off to install an update in the middle of your defense. Make sure there aren’t any embarrassing or weird files on your desktop if you’re planning to share your screen. And make sure you know the password to get back into the computer if it does restart just before or during the defense. Make sure you know how to silence or shut off all alerts and notifications for the duration of the viva so that you (and the examiners) aren’t being distracted or interrupted by dings and beeps or notification pop-ups. Have a backup device on hand that you could use in a pinch to do the exam if your primary device dies at the last minute–for example having your phone ready to use if your laptop stops working.
  • For software, the choice of video conferencing program is a big decision. In some cases, the university might dictate which program to use. If personal video-calling software such as Skype is suggested, push back on it. Try to get a more professional option that is made for meetings or online education (Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business, Blackboard Collaborate, Adobe Connect, etc.). They have a more professional interface, and functionality such as screen sharing, the ability to present a Powerpoint, etc. that you will need for your defense. Install the software on your primary device as well as your backup in advance, and have any logins saved in the device (so you’re not scrambling on the day of trying to remember passwords under pressure). It’s important to rehearse using whichever program in advance so you get used to where all the controls and buttons are so that when you’re nervous during the viva, you can still do what you need to do, and don’t accidentally disconnect the call while trying to raise the volume or put your PPT on the screen.
  • For the internet, if you can, connect to your modem via a cable, rather than relying on Wifi. It’s definitely worth buying an inexpensive ethernet cable (and any necessary adapters for your laptop) to do this if possible as it will make your connection much faster. If not, try to find a spot where the Wifi is strong, and be aware that if others are using the internet connection to do bandwidth-heavy tasks such as gaming, streaming videos or making video calls, it will slow down the connection for you. As for backup, if the Wifi gave out, or was inexplicably slow and causing an unreliable video connection, would you consider switching to your phone and using cellphone data for the defense? Video conferencing uses between 270-600MB/hour, depending on the program used. So if you have a good data plan, it might be worth considering it as a backup.

Remember, for the remote viva, you’re in control! Good luck and break a leg, everyone!

“Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy” @ Languages Canada 2020

February 25 is my talk at the Languages Canada conference, entitled “Beyond ‘English-Only’: Creating Effective and Equitable Program Language Policy”.

Here’s a description of the talk:

“English-only” policies—where use of students’ first language (L1) in the classroom is associated with a punitive response—are common in many English language programs. Received wisdom has long framed a monolingual “English-only” environment in many contexts as the most effective way to maximize English language use, and thereby promote the development of fluency, confidence, and communicative and strategic competence that may come with it. However, increasing research shows the advantage of moving away from a monolingual approach to a multi- or plurilingual approach, which gives space to all the languages in a student’s linguistic repertoire along with English, including their L1. Research shows well-implemented policies of this nature can contribute to more effective and deeper language learning via increased target language use, motivation, and agency.

In this presentation, participants will discover some of the latest research findings showing the increased learning outcomes, motivation and equity associated with plurilingual classroom and course policies in different ELT settings. We will also explore some of the challenges in developing and implementing such policies with teachers and students through a case study from a Canadian English language school.

I cite a few articles in the talk; links are below. Here is a link to the CEFR 2017 Companion volume. Both the selection of very recent research on plurilingual approaches in Canadian HE and EAP are great reads, as is Hall and Cook’s (2012) state of the art articles on own-language use in ELT.

Language Teaching and ‘The Crown’

I’ve been watching season 3 of The Crown, and I got excited when I realized that episode 6, Tywysog Cymru, was about language learning! Prince Charles is sent to Aberystwyth, Wales, to learn Welsh in advance of his investiture as Prince of Wales. It’s 1969, so a time of strong Welsh nationalism in opposition to London’s rule and the monarchy, and on top of it all, Charles’s tutor ends up being Tedi Millward, the Welsh nationalist politician.

My nerdly anticipation was short-lived, however; from the language teaching perspective, I was a bit disappointed in this episode. There just didn’t seem to be much teaching happening. (Rather, much good teaching.)

For example, on Charles’s first day at the university, after first meeting Tedi and then launching into a debate on Welsh sovereignty for a few moments, Charles is just randomly taken to a language lab and left there repeating a bunch of phrasebook-like language: How are you? What is your name? do you speak Welsh? There was no lead-in to this activity, nor does Charles receive anything written to support this exercise. “We learn through imitation; like everything in life, if we pretend we’re something long enough, we might just become it,” Tedi tells him allegorically, betraying himself (or at least the film version of himself) as quite the audiolingualist.

Indeed, most of the language “teaching” in the episode is simply Tedi translating investiture speech(es) Charles had written in English into Welsh, and then him coaching Charles to be able to recite it with phonetic accuracy. Tedi coaching Charles on the pronunciation of the the Welsh word for ‘atmosphere’, awyrgylch, is an example of all my least favourite bad pronunciation teaching tropes. First, Tedi uses negative, emotional and mystifying language to describe the series of phonemes in the word: “It’s like a verbal assault course of all your worst sounds scattered one after another like traps.” Why would you say that to someone, setting them up to stumble and hesitate on this word, instead of, for example, looking at the phonemes in the word and comparing them to the phonemes in the student’s L1 and identifying which sounds might come easier and which ones will have to be taught anew?

To my non-Welsh-speaking ear, it seems there is only one phoneme that might be completely novel to an English speaker (the final one in the word). Why wouldn’t you start there, talking about how that sounds is articulated, finding some similar or identical sounds in languages Charles knows, and work on it in isolation first, and then word-finally? So the non-language folks wouldn’t get bored while watching this, you could work all kinds of clever allegories, veiled comments and double-entrendres about independence, imperialism, etc.

Another bad pronunciation teaching trope is when teachers don’t explain things or give instruction, but just yell “No! Like this!” and repeat a sound over and over. It’s kind of like translation by volume, but with pronunciation. When coaching Charles on the pronunciation of the first sound in the word awyrgylch, a diphthong involving an open back vowel, Tedi just yells “No!” at Charles’s closed and fronted approximation of the sound and repeats the sound again. C’mon, Tedi, give the guy a little explanation here!

What I think the episode does a very good job of is showing the dynamics of a monolingual English-speaker used to being part of a language and cultural majority experiencing a minority language situation for the first time. You really get a sense of Charles’s awakening, as he moves from clueless arrogance about Welsh and the Welsh struggle–“But Wales is England!”–to having empathy and understanding of the situation so much so that his investiture speech includes pro-Welsh sentiment (though this is played up more in The Crown than his speech in real life.)

Having lived in both Quebec and the Basque country, I’ve seen people in all stages and steps of this transformation–both by English speakers as well as other majority language speakers–countless times.

Thesis Submitted!

I haven’t been posting on this blog as frequently over the last year as I would have liked. That’s because all my free time was being spent on my doctoral research. The good news is, I just submitted my thesis yesterday! I realized I haven’t really posted much about my research, but now’s as good a time as any to start. This will be the first in a series of posts linking my research to practice for those of us who are language workers in a higher education context.

But first, the asbtract:

Monolingualism, Neoliberalism and Language-as-Problem:   
Discourse Itineraries in Canadian University Language Policy

Internationalization policies to promote international student enrolment at many Canadian universities have led to increased levels of linguistic diversity in the student body. However, institutional language policy responses to this diversity may be lacking, may centre a monolingual mindset or may discursively position the issue of the English language proficiency and development of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds in a framing of deficit. This study maps changing and conflicting “discourse itineraries” (Scollon, 2008:234), the taken-for-granted ideas, constraints and allowances at play discursively in institutional language policy. This was done via a multiple case study of three Canadian universities, where critical discourse analysis (CDA) was carried out on a variety of policy documents related to language, academic literacy and internationalization at the provincial (macro) and institutional and faculty (meso) levels and stakeholders at these institutions were interviewed.

This analysis revealed, first, that much language policy at these three institutions is covert, implicit and de facto. Two prominent discourses were also found: Language-as-Problem (Ruiz, 1984) and Neoliberalism and Language, each with pervasive sub-discourses—notably the Monolingual Mindset—that shape the creation of language policy at these universities. Discursive change is underway, however, as conflicting discourses were found at all institutions. In certain cases, there is a shift away from Language-as-Problem, influenced by a neoliberal focus on the English language as economic instrument. Building on Ruiz’s (1984) orientations toward language planning, this thesis proposes a new policy analytic heuristic to further describe the extent to which institutions ignore, blame, support or embrace language at different policy levels. As well, suggestions are made for Canadian higher education (HE) language stakeholders about how to realign discourses and bring about social change via critical language awareness-raising and policy-making. The ultimate goal is to provide a more equitable academic experience within Canadian HE for students from non-English-speaking backgrounds.

References:

Scollon, R. (2008). Discourse itineraries: Nine processes of resemiotization. In V.K. Bhatia, J. Flowerdew, & R.H. Jones (Eds.), Advances in discourse studies (pp. 233–244). London: Routledge.

Ruiz, R. (1984). Orientations in language planning. NABE Journal, 8, 15–34

TESL NS Keynote, Nov 2019

Next weekend my colleague Kate Morrison and I are presenting a keynote talk on EAP at the TESL Nova Scotia Fall Conference. We are really looking forward to a lively discussion with the very engaged group of EAP practitioners we have in our ELT community here in Nova Scotia. It’s a topic I’m thinking about a lot lately, given my involvement in Bloomsbury’s New Perspectives in English for Academic Purposes books series. Can’t wait!

Exploring Teaching and Learning in English for Academic Purposes

The practice of teaching and learning EAP may look quite different across different settings in Nova Scotia and around the world. Are there unique aspects of EAP pedagogy which unite these diverse contexts? Does preparing students for their future degree program in English necessitate a different approach to teaching and learning, or is EAP simply an extension of general English teaching? In this talk, we discuss whether there is a ‘signature pedagogy’ (Shulman 2005) for English for Academic Purposes. Through an exploration of a variety of current approaches to good teaching practices, participants will be invited to reflect on these questions and their own EAP practice in light of the diversity of pedagogies in the field.

Language Teacher as Language Learner

A colleague and I were recently discussing the issue of which aspects of our professional practice as language instructors are informed by our formal training, which by our classroom teaching experience and which by our own personal experience as learners and users of additional languages. The topic came up in regards to the issue of the acquisition of metaphorical competence. For both of us, our own experiences of the process of becoming aware of the metaphorical schemata we hold in our L1, and then overcoming those to fully acquire metaphorical competence in other languages greatly informs how we approach teaching from the most basic structures to collocations, phrasal verbs, and idioms.

Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot of travel and work in one of my additional languages lately, doing a lot of meetings and presentations in Spanish across Latin America. This has also made me reflect on how much of my teaching is informed by my own experiences in learning and using additional languages. Very practical strategies for learning and communication are another area that I draw on, sharing my own strategies with my students. There are the things we always advise our students to do—we all have our old chestnuts—but it’s good to have a reminder every so often of some of the real-life challenges that may come up and some practical advice on how to cope.

Here is what has stood out for me lately:

Predict and Prepare

One mantra I always emphasize when working with advanced users of academic English preparing for academic presentations, conferences or their thesis defence is predict and prepare. In advance of any particular event or context where they will have to talk about their research or discuss ideas in their field, they should think hard to predict what they have to talk about, and questions they may be asked or the responses they may have to give. Then, I advise them to actually sit down and prepare a list of the key words, concepts, terminology, expressions they will need to draw on in doing all of the above. They should not just make a simple list, but include common synonyms or collocations and related word forms, as well as pronunciation. Most people are used to the concept of rehearsing presentations, but I encourage students to also practice smaller-scale or more informal sections of these communicative events, such as Q and A responses, answers to certain predicted interview questions, and rebuttals to criticisms of one’s research.

I’ve certainly had to practice what I preach in this respect with regards to my recent work in Spanish. When presenting in English, I don’t tend to script things too closely; I’ll prepare notes or points on a Powerpoint and then speak off of them rather extemporaneously. But in Spanish I’ve been speaking about an area with a lot of specialized terminology, which I’ve really had to research and prepare for. Thankfully, a lot of the questions I receive are easily predictable, so that has helped me focus my preparation.

Regional variation and Register

I’ve done work in 7 different Latin America countries in the last while, each with its own patterns of second person pronoun use (tu, usted, vos, etc.) and variation in register. I’ll try to read up on the use of pronouns in each country before I get there, but there’s only so much an article can tell you. I try to be very sensitive and observant around patterns of use and how they vary in service encounters, meetings and when speaking to and advising  youth and prospective students, where the age factor comes into play. But it’s tricky! I try to err on the side of formality if in doubt.

This has inspired me to put more emphasis on register in my classes. Sometimes there can be a tendency to view English as simple in this respect, as there is only one second person singular pronoun. But I am feeling inspired about spending more time on examining the other ways register, hierarchy, respect, distance, etc. are expressed in English in interpersonal encounters, and encouraging learners to be observant and sensitive to these phenomena. I used to spend a lot of time approaching register in this way when I taught a lot of business English, but in an EAP context I find the focus tends to be on informal vs. academic writing and speech. I think the regional variation in register in Anglophone countries is also important, but as is usual in many ELT materials, the discussion tends to stop at British vs. American differences. Those trying to figure out register in Canada are left to figure it out for themselves! Observation of patterns and sensitivity become all the more important.

Informal Recasts

Awareness of the fact that even recasts in formal classroom settings go ignored most of the time has left me determined to try to listen for them and incorporate them to improve my accuracy, especially of vocabulary. For example, in a conversation with a student, I had used the term biología marítima to refer to marine biology, but he replied using the term biología marina. “Whoops!”, I said to myself, and took note to correct that term in my internal dictionary.

Does awareness of the research around recasts and the fact that they often lead to very little uptake make learners more likely to listen for them, take them in, and therefore make them more likely to be effective? I think it does, and always bring this up in class, especially in speaking and pronunciation classes.

Paraphrasing

Finally, not that there as any doubt, but these experiences have driven home the importance of fluency and confidence (over accuracy) in asserting yourself and being accepted as a user of a particular language. Many people, whether subconsciously or consciously, hold the idea that fluency (interplaying with pronunciation here) in a language reflects your cognitive state. So in real-life professional communicative situations it’s best to just employ any strategies necessary to get on with things, rather than getting hung up on grammatical mistakes or blanking on a particular piece of vocab. Finding time in class not just to discuss these strategies, but to practice them via role plays or other activities is very important.

Teacher Qualification Frameworks and Equity in Hiring

Lots of university language centres in Canada get a big influx of EAP students in the Fall semester, and that often means hiring on more instructors. Although that’s not the case with our centre this year, it’s got me thinking about hiring.

In Canada, language schools or institutes might operate within a couple of different accreditation or certification frameworks in terms of the qualifications of academic staff hired: TESL Canada Professional Certification, a provincial certification process, or if it’s a Languages Canada-accredited language training institution, their Classification of TESOL Qualifications.

TESL Canada and Languages Canada are great organizations, and their existence and advocacy has contributed immensely to the professionalization and raising standards of English language teaching in Canada, especially with regards to teachers on government-sponsored immigrant language programs (Burnaby 2003; Sivell 2005; Chafe and Wang, 2008), and with regards to private language schools.

At the same time, the teaching of English for Academic Purposes in the higher education context seems to be a bit of a different beast in terms of the qualifications, background and experience of value in a potential instructor. For example, advanced degrees, research experience, familiarity with academic discourse(s) in different disciplines and published academic work is all of great value in an EAP instructor. BALEAP’s TEAP Competency Framework reflects this in a way that general ELT certification frameworks don’t (and can’t).

I also think that some aspects of the general ELT certification and accreditation frameworks work against diversity and equity in hiring, especially in a context like Canada. For example, for TESL Canada certification a teacher’s training has to have been carried out at an institution on their list of accredited training programs. This list is, in my opinion, very short, and every institution on it is located in Canada. If your training is from another institution, you have to apply for an onerous and expensive prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) process. In an industry as globally-mobile as TESOL, and in a country with as much immigration as Canada, this is quite out of touch with the reality on the ground, where a great number of us (myself included) have training, qualifications and experience from outside the country.

Similarly, TESL Canada has a very narrow definition of acceptable English(es). They require any applicants for certification who have not completed an undergraduate degree at an English-speaking university in one of the countries on this list to show proof of language proficiency. Lists of this type are common in university admissions, etc., but this particular list has a couple of notable omissions, such as Pakistan and India. In these two countries, English-medium higher education is very common, and there are also a significant number of Canadians who have received their education there. Why are they not on that list?

Finally, both TESL Canada and Languages Canada TESOL Qualification criteria prescribe training programs with a very specific minimum of observation and practicum hours. While recent certificate, diploma and degree-programs in the Anglo world might be likely to include these elements that is not the case in many contexts around the world. Folks who have received their TESOL training in the context of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in many different countries would not have had observations or practicum placements, as it’s simply not the norm.

Why flexibility and ability to exercise judgement in hiring are extremely important, as they allow me to hire who I consider to be qualified and a good fit for a given position, be they born, raised and trained in Canada, a recent newcomer to Canada, a Canadian with diverse worldwide experience, or a speaker of one of a variety of World Englishes. If someone has a degree in TESL from another country with no practicum, but a ton of teaching experience, then I can hire them. If they speak Indian English, I don’t have to subject them to an IELTS test. If they have a master’s in biology on top of their other qualifications, I can value that and put them on a science writing course. Languages Canada provides some flexibility by stipulating, for example, that “there will be a valid rationale provided for the employment of any teachers or academic leader without the ELT/TESOL qualifications specified.” This is extremely important not just to allow hiring to reflect the difference between EAP and general ELT, but to ensure I can hire a complement of qualified, experienced and engaged teachers that reflects the diversity of the Canadian population. Our educational program is the richer for it.

Interaction for Learning Framework

The interface between TESOL and international higher education is such an fascinating space to be working in these days. I enjoy how my work will take me into diverse areas and fields–EAP, general academic writing, SoTL, internationalization of the curriculum, etc. Every year Dalhousie hosts a conference on teaching and learning in higher education, and it’s a great chance to connect with people from different faculties and departments from universities all over Canada who care about teaching and learning. No matter what the conference theme, I always try to present on something related to linguistic and cultural diversity in our classrooms and/or internationalization of the curriculum and pedagogies. It’s so important to try to counter the deficit view of linguistic diversity and international students that is still quite common out there in Canadian higher ed. One way to do this is to offer some practical tools and teaching techniques.

Next week I’ll be presenting The Interaction for Learning Framework: A tool for learning in diverse classrooms .

It’s the first time I’ve presented on this topic, and I’m really excited about it. I’m still finalizing the presentation; if you have worked with this framework before, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on Twitter.

Here’s a description:

Despite increasing diversity at many institutions, students often gravitate toward others of similar linguistic or cultural backgrounds academically—in class, for groupwork or assignments, tutorial choice—as well as socially. When this happens, the benefits of learning in a diverse setting, such as expanded world view, increased empathy, strengthened sense of global citizenship, may remain unrealized. Many educators experience frustration when faced with this tendency of students to self-segregate. They many feel helplessness, or confusion at why interaction doesn’t just happen on its own. They may not realize that they are in a position to facilitate an inclusive classroom environment or they may realize this but lack the tools to do so.

This presentation is an introduction to one of these tools: the ‘Interaction for Learning Framework’ (ILF), which was developed at the Centre for Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne by researcher Sophie Arkoudis and her team. Arkoudis et al. (2012) and Arkoudis et al. (2013) describe this framework in detail. The ILF was developed to help faculty and instructors structure the learning environment to increase interaction between domestic and international students.

In the proposed session, I will introduce the framework and its spheres of application, balancing theoretical information with examples of its application from around the world, as well as criticisms that have emerged out of the literature. In terms of session outcomes, participants will learn about the ILF, and how to apply it in the context of their curriculum and classroom pedagogies to facilitate interaction between students and the synthesis of course material. There will be time allotted to reflection and application of the ILF to participants’ own educational contexts.

If true inclusion, diversity and internationalization are to be achieved on our campuses and in our classrooms, we must move past buzzwords and strategic directives and do the hard work of changing our curricula and pedagogies to foster the types of attitudes and create the types of environments we envision. This change won’t necessarily happen without our intervention. The ILF is one technique TAs, instructors and faculty can add to their toolbox for inclusive teaching.

References:

Arkoudis, S., Watty, K., Baik, C., Yu, X., Borland, H., Chang, S., Lang, I., Lang, J. & Pearce, A. (2013). Finding common ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students in higher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 222-235.

Arkoudis, S., Baik, C., & Richardson, S. (2012). English language standards in higher education: from entry to exit. Camberwell, Vic.: ACER Press.

ELT and International Higher Ed

I’ve been neglecting my blog, I’m afraid. It’s ready to blame it solely on my doctoral thesis, which nearing completion, but it’s not just that. My professional role has expanded to include the realm of international higher education, which has meant a bunch of missions abroad representing the university, our English language unit, and Canadian higher ed in general over the past year and a half or so. Mostly to Latin America, and usually with a consortium or co-op such as the CALDO Consortium, Languages Canada or EduNova, these missions have been not only extremely interesting, but have given me some new insight into the the role of language in the internationalization of higher education.

For example, the growth of international education has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of English language as a medium for teaching, learning and research. As a result, English-medium instruction, language training for students and academics, and language capacity-building play an important role in many international partnerships. As well, policies and practices such as language proficiency requirements for admission, and standardized language testing continue to be points of discussion. However, the potentially important role language in international education is often underestimated. How innovative approaches to language can contribute to sustainable and successful initiatives is not adequately discussed.

I see this lack of attention paid to the role and potential of language in international higher ed as especially glaring  when it is done by Anglo-Canadian institutions. Going into meetings with institutions from places where English is not the dominant language, language proficiency, training, assessment and EMI are often prominent concerns, brought up right from the start in discussion of student and faculty mobility and joint research collaboration, etc. A monolingual mindset is prevalent at many Anglo-Canadian universities (more on that in my thesis!). This means that sometimes Canadian institutions don’t seem to think that these are important concerns and don’t address them as they build programs. Sometimes institutions don’t see language teaching, learning and research as “proper” scholarship, and miss opportunities for things like short-term language courses to be a first step in collaboration between two institutions while more complicated agreements get worked out for things like joint doctoral degrees or other more involved sorts of collaboration.

New EAP Book Series

I’m very excited to have just joined the advisory board for a new EAP book series: NEW PERSPECTIVES FOR ENGLISH FOR ACADEMIC PURPOSES. This series sets the agenda for studies in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) by opening up research and scholarship to new domains, ideas and perspectives as well as giving a platform to emerging and established practitioners and researchers in the field.

Check out this flyer for more details and/or contact info on how to submit: